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Aquaponics Cycling Methods

Aquaponics Cycling is an important step that can not be skipped as you are setting up your system. It is necessary in order for the fish to establish a healthy habitat.  Not cycling your system will result in dead fish and your frustration.  Cycling your system is not IMG_20140619_092713_711complicated, although it may seem time consuming. It averages 2-6 weeks, depending on the method you choose. Do Not Buy Fish Until You Have Cycled Your System!

Cycling your system means that you start the process of adding ammonia and breaking down the ammonia through a nitrite/nitrate cycle.  (Read up on the Ammonia/Nitrite/Nitrate Cycle here).  Ammonia is highly toxic to fish yet they excrete it in their waste and through breathing.  Any buildup of ammonia in your system could kill your fish and leave you stranded.  By introducing ammonia to your system before adding in your fish, you allow the bacteria that is necessary to a functioning system to grow.  Once you add your fish, the bacteria will already be in place to take care of the ammonia they off-put.

Here are 4 Aquaponics cycling methods you could do before you put your fish in their new home.

1) Fishless Cycling with Ammonia-

Fishless Ammonia Cycling Kits are available that will help get your tank cycled.  This specific kit offers powdered ammonia and the nitrifying bacteria that is needed to start your tank off right.

Household Ammonia is also a good choice but be careful to use only a food grade ammonia and avoid brands that use additives (like fragrances). If you use this method, be careful to add only a bit at a time and to test your system daily , even twice daily, to avoid overloading your system by adding too much.

2) Fishless Cycling with Urine-

This might raise your eyebrows but it is still a legitimate option.  Human urine contains urea which breaks down into ammonia.  Adding some into your system will introduce the ammonia which will then attract the bacteria you are looking for. This option is hard to predict so close monitoring is necessary.

This is probably my least advised option. The cons of this are that human urine contains everything that was put in the body.  If you take any medication, smoke, drink or anything that isn’t 100% good for fish, don’t use this method.

3) Fishless Cycling with Aquarium Water-

This method, I believe, is one that is under utilized.  People all over the world have fish tanks that are already set up with the beneficial bacteria thriving.  Ask for some of their gravel or even other materials in their tank like their bio-wheel or ornaments.  Be sure that the tank you are borrowing from is disease free or you could be introducing problems into your system before you even get a good start.

There is an option of using local river stones as well, but because you may not have any idea the quality of the bacteria, the chance of pesticides or if there are diseases, I caution you to be very careful in attempting to do this.

4) Fish Cycling-

Fish cycling is really rough on the fish you choose to cycle with.  The idea is that you toss some fish into your tank and allow their waste to begin adding ammonia.  The ammonia always spikes quite high within two weeks and the spike can kill the fish.  If that doesn’t kill them, the nitrite spike two weeks later could kill them.  Typically this type of cycling is done with hardier fish like gold fish.

The pros of cycling with this method is that you don’t have to worry so much about measuring and watching levels in your water.  You toss in the cheap gold fish and if they are still alive 6 weeks later you can be happy for them.

The cons of this is that you have a 6 week delay of adding your fish in slowly or of not adding in the fish you eventually wish to harvest at all.  And if you have a soft spot for cute fish, this method is likely to kill them and you might not be inclined to watch that.

Using any one of these 4 Aquaponics cycling methods will give you the results you need- ammonia in your water that will eventually attract the correct bacteria for your system and your fish to thrive.  I’ve heard it said that as Aquaponic farmers, we are not raising fish and plants but we are raising bacteria and fish and plants happen to be a happy side effect!

As you watch your tank cycling, you’ll need to purchase a water test kit.  Check out our product review of popular test kit options.


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